Latitude Zero (1969)

LATITUDE ZERO (1969)
aka IDO ZERO DAISAKUSEN
Article 2126 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2007
Posting Date: 6-8-2007
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Akira Takarada

Three people stranded on the ocean floor in a bathysphere are rescued by residents of an underground kingdom called Latitude Zero. They are fighting the evil mad scientist, Dr. Malic.

For some reason, this Toho science fiction movie has eluded me for years; now, after having seen it, I’m afraid I have to consider myself somewhat fortunate in this regard. Dubbing is not a real problem with this one, what with most of the major cast members (Cotten, Romero and Jaeckel) speaking their lines in English to begin with, but I think the story is rather slow-moving and weak, Joseph Cotten seems lost and a little bored (though Cesar Romero is trying to put his best foot forward) and the music is listless and puny (from the usually reliable Akira Ifukube). There’s a bit of campy fun, though, what with Romero insisting on surgically creating a monster (a lion with the wings of a condor and the brain of a woman) right in front of his unwilling captives who are forced to watch by evil bat-men, but these sequences come fairly late in the film. The monster costumes look like monster costumes (especially the rats and the lions). It almost looks like they were hoping to build a TV series off of it. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of Toho’s weakest efforts in the realm of Science Fiction.

 

The Love Bug (1968)

THE LOVE BUG (1968)
Article 2120 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-4-2007
Posting Date: 6-2-2007
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Dean Jones, Michele Lee, David Tomlinson

A down-and-out racing car driver finds himself the owner of a Volkswagen which has a mind of its own as well as the ability to move at lightning speed.

As you may have noticed, I’m not particularly a fan of shopping cart movies; sure, I loved the Disney comedies as a kid, but I usually find they work better as nostalgic memories than they do viewing them in my adulthood. Furthermore, the ones I didn’t see as a kid have no nostalgia value either. Still, some of them surprise me. This is my first viewing of this particular movie, and I didn’t really expect much but the usual shtick, but somehow I found myself caught up in this one. Partially it’s because the movie establishes its main characters so well in the opening scenes that I care about them as people before the silliness begins. Dean Jones has quickly become my second favorite of shopping cart leading men (only trailing Fred MacMurray), and I was surprised by the compassionate undertones in Buddy Hackett’s performance; I usually expect him to play for laughs, but he obviously really cares about Herbie and Jones’ character. In fact, I think the acting is very good and extremely consistent throughout the movie, and some of the comedy is clever and understated; my favorite moment involves two Chinese store owners trying to identify which car damaged their store, and the cars look subtly as if they are in a police lineup. Most surprisingly, Herbie even comes to life as a character; when he runs away at one point in the proceedings, I actually found myself caught up in the pathos. The special effects are excellent, especially during the final race. This has to rank as one of my favorite of the Disney comedies.

 

The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966)

THE LAST OF THE SECRET AGENTS? (1966)
Article 2113 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-28-2006
Posting Date: 5-26-2007
Directed by Norman Abbott
Featuring Marty Allen, Steve Rossi, John Williams

Two Americans who were being used as unwilling dupes in the theft of stolen works of art are recruited by a spy agency to fight THEM, the agency who is stealing the works of art.

Allen and Rossi were a popular comedy team in the sixties and seventies, and made a number of appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. They made only two movies together, and one of them (ALLEN AND ROSSI MEET DRACULA AND FRANKENSTEIN) is so devoid of credits on IMDB that I wonder if it really exists. This was their first, and you can see why they didn’t go on to a successful movie career. It’s supposed to be a parody of James Bond movies, but it’s so unfocused that it never really becomes much of anything. The laughs are few and far between, with a running gag about a doctor being paged particularly weak. The science fiction content is the usual array of spy gadgets, and much of the attempted humor is derived from their use. The movie is stolen by Harvey Korman, who, in one scene, displays the focus and timing that the rest of the movie lacks. Outside of his scene, the best moments involve the a film being shown to the two new agents showing their probable fate if they don’t join the agency (good use of stock footage here), and a scene in a topless dance club where, through the magic of careful camera placement, you manage to avoid seeing anything.

 

Lord of the Flies (1963)

LORD OF THE FLIES (1963)
Article 2100 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-15-2006
Posting Date: 5-13-2007
Directed by Peter Brook
Featuring James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards

A group of British boys are shipwrecked on an island. Despite the attempt to maintain civilization, they begin reverting to savagery.

The William Golding novel on which this is based is one of those works which practically every high school student has had to reckon with; I was one of those that missed this one somehow, so this is my first encounter with the work. Having not read the novel, I can’t say how close the movie hones to the story, but my gut reaction at this point is that it is quite faithful. If so, I seriously question as to whether it can really be appreciated by the average high school student; the power of this work is not in the story itself, but in its relevance to man, human nature, and his political world, and I think these things are best appreciated with the passage of time. I was in particular impressed with the concept of the Beast – that (possibly nonexistent) object of fear which can be used by the unscrupulous to manipulate those around them to do the bidding of the leaders. These concepts are most likely as old as man himself, and the movie taps into some quite profound insights into human nature. I also enjoyed watching the struggle between civilization and savagery, and knew that Piggy was doomed at the outset, because of all the characters, he was the most dependent on civilization for his survival; in a savage land there is no place for him. The movie itself is a bit uneven; some of the acting isn’t quite up to par, and the style is a bit off-putting at the beginning, but the allegorical power remains very strong, and the movie gets better as it goes along. It may have a little science fiction to it (there are hints of the next big war being about to occur, though that is far from explicit in this movie), and the Beast (whether it is real or not) does add a touch of horror to the proceedings; at any rate, the image of the pigs head crawling with flies is about as grotesque an image as you’ll see in any horror movie.

 

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976)
Article 2099 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-14-2006
Posting Date: 5-12-2007
Directed by Nicolas Gessner
Featuring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith

A 13-year old girl virtually lives by herself in a leased cottage; nobody has seen her father for months. It is obvious she has a secret to hide, and she has to contend with a nosy landlord and her son (a child molester) who wish to find out the truth.

Jodie Foster was one of the most accomplished child actors of all time, and she was capable of playing her roles with a maturity that was far beyond her years. This is one of those roles that only she could have played, and she is memorable and convincing as a girl who has been forced by circumstance to fend for herself in a hostile world where she finds it hard to trust anybody; even the friendly local policeman can’t really be trusted because of the secrets she harbors. Though this is to some extent a horror movie, to call it such really doesn’t do it justice. Yes, someone is keeping a dead body in the cellar in this one, but that person isn’t the real monster; that description belongs to Martin Sheen’s sadistic child molester, a man who plans to use the information he gathers to force the girl to do what he desires. Sheen is also excellent, and he is one of the creepiest and most hateful characters ever to appear in the movies. There’s a moment here and there that doesn’t work, especially when an unexpected character appears on the staircase, but for the most part, it is chillingly convincing. The final scene of the movie relies on one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it has a real poignancy here. largely because we’re not so sure that it was a trick, and though we know someone is going to die in the last scene, it doesn’t really matter who, if you think about it.

 

Li’l Abner (1959)

LI’L ABNER (1959)
Article 2098 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2006
Posting Date: 5-11-2007
Directed by Melvin Frank
Featuring Peter Palmer, Leslie Parrish, Stubby Kaye

When Dogpatch is selected as a site for the next A-Bomb test, the Dogpatchians try to find something that will make their home necessary to the government so they won’t bomb. It’s discovered that Mammy Yokum’s elixir turns weaklings into strong men, Li’l Abner is sent to Washington to negotiate the saving of Dogpatch.

Quite frankly, the biggest laughs I got from this movie were seeing the character’s names in the opening credits. It’s not that I found the movie to be bad; it’s certainly energetic and colorful, and it has a few amusing moments. However, I didn’t really enjoy it that much, the lead was rather dull, it goes on too long, and I didn’t hear any songs worth remembering. I did find some of the cameos fun; keep your eyes open for Jerry Lewis as Itchy McRabbit, and sword-and-sandal fans should spot Brad Harris and Gordon Mitchell among the line-up of hillbillies-turned-into-musclemen. I might have liked this one better had it not been a musical, but that’s just me.

 

License to Kill (1964)

LICENSE TO KILL (1964)
aka NICK CARTER VA TOUT CASSER
Article 2072 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2006
Posting Date: 4-15-2007
Directed by Henri Decoin
Featuring Eddie Constantine, Daphne Dayle, Paul Frankeur

A scientist hires Nick Carter to protect his invention (a machine that uses a small flying saucer to destroy things) from Chinese spies.

Don’t let the title fool you; this movie is not one of the rash of James Bond clones that appeared in the mid-to-late sixties. No, this movie owes much more to detective B movies, mysteries, and yellow peril movies from the thirties and forties. The only time I’ve really had a chance to encounter Eddie Constantine before this was in ALPHAVILLE, and I suspect that that movie (having been dominated by director Jean Luc-Godard) didn’t really represent his oeuvre very well. In this one he is thoroughly charming. Part of it may be that this is the first time I’ve heard him use his own voice for the English dubbing, which is wonderful for the part. The movie has a naive don’t-take-it-too-seriously charm about it, and is filled with fun elements from old mystery and detective movies; Nick Carter has a jealous secretary and a dim-witted assistant, the plot involves a locked door mystery at one point, there’s lots of gadgetry (Carter’s watch dial is able to burn through ropes), and it even can’t resist ending the movie with a parting joke reminiscent of movies from an earlier era. Best of all are the fights; they’re hardly convincing, but they’re hilarious, as Nick Carter dispatches gangs of assailants with unflappable ease. My favorite moment in the latter is where he encounters a series of killers with machine guns who, despite the fact that their weapons are spurting out lead at an incredible rate, never hit a target and are dispatched with one shot of Carter’s pistol. Taken seriously, the movie is hard to swallow; take it as a comedy, and it’s great fun. Recommended.